Nashville Predators the surprise of the NHL playoffs so far

The first round of the 2016/17 NHL playoffs have concluded with the Toronto Maple Leafs being both the last team to make the postseason and the last team to be eliminated in the first round. The Leafs were one of the top stories of the opening round, but there’s no doubt the Nashville Predators pulled of the most unlikely upset by ousting the Chicago Blackhawks in a four-game sweep. Yes, Leafs fans will have you believe their team deserved all the headlines, but it’s par for the course for the Toronto franchise to ultimately let their fans down once again. After 50 years of the same old thing they should be used to it by now.
The Leafs’ penchant for blowing leads cost them in their series against the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals as they held a 2-1 series lead and then lost three straight. They also had a 1-0 lead in the sixth and final game with just over seven minutes to go, but couldn’t hang on to it. It was quite a roller coaster ride for their fans though as all six games were decided by one goal with an NHL record-tying  five games going into overtime. This rookie-laden Leafs team could be a force to reckon with in the future with the addition of one or two good defenceman and another experienced forward.
And speaking of overtime, the first round saw an NHL record 18 games to into an extra period. The Toronto vs Washington series accounted for five of those games and the Ottawa vs Boston series featured four overtime contests with Ottawa winning the series in six games. But no matter what angle you look at it, Nashville’s four-game sweep was certainly more surprising than the Leafs taking Washington to six games, especially when you consider the problems the Capitals have had in the playoffs over the past few seasons.
Nashville was the lowest ranked of the 16 playoff teams this season with 94 points, one fewer than Toronto. They took on the Central Division and Western Conference champions in Chicago and had dropped the regular-season series 4-1 to the Hawks. However, goaltender Pekka Rinne shut the Hawks out in the first two games in the Windy City even though the Predators possessed the worst road record of all 16 playoff teams this season. This was the first-ever four-game series win for the Predators franchise and it was the first time in NHL history that an eighth-seeded team swept and top-seeded team in a conference series.
The 36-year-old Rinne allowed just three goals against all series and only one of those came at even strength. He stopped 123 of 126 shots against for a save percentage of 97.6. It’ll be interesting to see if Nashville’s youngsters and Rinne can keep it up in the second round as they’ll be taking on the St. Louis Blues, who eliminated the Minnesota Wild in five games in the first round. Other first round series saw the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the Eastern Conference.

In the West, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames in four games and the young Edmonton Oilers ousted the San Jose Sharks in six. The second round matchups are the Washington Capitals vs the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators vs the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, St. Louis tangles with Nashville in the West while Anaheim will battle it out with Edmonton. No matter what happens from now on in the playoffs, the Predators have earned a spot in the history books with their first-round performance against Chicago.  

NHL sees coaching musical chairs at end of regular season

With the first round of the NHL playoffs in full swing and all of the excitement surrounding them, some fans may have missed some important news at the conclusion of the regular season. We’ll recap the coaching musical chairs and front office changes that took place once the season ended just in case you may have missed something. There were a total of 11 coaching changes in 2016/17 with five changes being made during the campaign and six more announcements after it ended.
Florida Panthers
We’ll start with the Florida Panthers since they fired Gerard Gallant back in late November after 22 games when they had an 11-10-1 record. This came even though Gallant led the team to a record 103 points the year before and finished as runner up in coach-of-the-year voting. He was replaced by general manager Tom Rowe, who had earlier taken over the GM duties from the displaced Dale Tallon. Florida went 24-26-10 under Rowe and missed the playoffs by 14 points and finished 22 points lower than last season. Rowe was relieved of both his coaching and general manager’s duties when the season ended. Tallon was reinserted as the GM and the club is still in the hunt for a new head coach. Rowe is still under contract for three more years though and will be given a front office job.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings dismissed head coach Darryl Sutter at season’s end even though he led the club to a pair of Stanley Cups in his five years behind the team’s bench. These are the only two titles the franchise has won. However, he also failed to make the playoffs twice in the last three years, including this year. Sutter wasn’t the only one the Kings cut loose though as general manager Dean Lombardi also lost his job. Lombardi has been replaced by former Kings’ defenceman Rob Blake who will also serve as vice-president while Luc Robitaille is the team’s new president. Sutter leaves as the Kings’ most successful coach ever with a record of 225-147-53.
Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks were another west coast franchise which got in on the action as they weren’t satisfied with the job Willie Desjardins has done for the club over the past three seasons. They missed the playoffs the last two years under Desjardins and have reached the postseason just twice in the last five campaigns and believed a change was in order. General manager Jim Benning managed to keep his job for the time being though even though the club finished 29th out of 30 this season at 30-43-9. Desjardins went 109-110-27 while in Vancouver. Assistant coaches Perry Pearn and Doug Lidster were let go along with Desjardins. 
Dallas Stars
Lindy Ruff of the Dallas Stars was another head coach who was sacked at the end of the season after four years behind the bench. Ruff went 131-85-30 with the Stars, but still failed to make the playoffs this season at 34-37-11 after they looked like Stanley Cup contenders last year. With stars such as Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp in the lineup it’s easy to see why management was disappointed this season. The Stars have already filled Ruff’s spot as they hired Ken Hitchcock as his replacement. Ironically, Hitchcock himself was fired earlier in the season as the St. Louis Blues let him go while he was in the midst of his sixth season with the club. Hitchcock coached Dallas from 1996 to 2002 and won two President’s Trophies and a Stanley Cup with the team. He said before the 2016/17 that it was going to be his last year as a head coach, but apparently changed his mind to rejoin Dallas.

Las Vegas Golden Knights
We now come full circle as we get back to Gerard Gallant, who was the first coach fired this season when Florida let him go. Gallant was named as the inaugural head coach of the new Las Vegas franchise, the Vegas Golden Knight. General manager George McPhee made the announcement on April 13th. The Knights are the 31st NHL franchise and will begin play in the 2017/18 season. The 53-year-old Gallant, a former player with Detroit and Tampa Bay, has also been a head coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and an assistant coach with the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens. His head-coaching record reads 152-141-31.

NHL playoff matchups finalized and ready to go

After a grueling six-month schedule and a total of 1,230 games, the NHL playoff matchups are now set as the postseason faces off on Wednesday, April 12th. Sixteen teams will be squaring off for the Stanley Cup with the winner having to win 16 playoff games to hoist the silverware. Below is a quick look at the first round playoff matchups.
Western Conference
Chicago Blackhawks (50-23-9, 109 points) vs Nashville Predators (41-29-12, 94 points)
The Blackhawks won the Central Division again this season and topped the Western Conference. They’ll be facing Nashville, who finished fourth in the Central and reached the playoffs as the eighth seed in the West with the second wildcard position. Chicago won the season series 4-1 and outscored Nashville 18-10. This series gets underway Thursday, April 13th with Nashville being the worst road team of the 16 playoff participants.
Minnesota Wild (49-25-8, 106 points) vs St. Louis Blues (46-29-7, 99 points)
Minnesota finished second in the Central Division and the Western Conference while St. Louis was third in the Central and fifth in the West. The Blues won the season series 3-2 with one victory coming in a shootout. Minnesota outscored them 14-11 in the series though. This matchup kicks off on Wednesday, April 12th.
Anaheim Ducks (46-23-13, 105 points) vs Calgary Flames (45-33-4, 94 points)
Anaheim won the Pacific Division for the fifth straight season and enters the playoffs as the third seed in the West. Calgary placed fourth in the Pacific and is the seventh-seed in the West. The Ducks won the season series 4-1 and outscored the Flames 17-14. The series gets underway on Thursday, April 13th.
Edmonton Oilers (47-26-9, 103 points) vs San Jose Sharks (46-29-7, 99 points)
Edmonton finished as runners up in the Pacific Division and as the fourth seed in the West. This is their first playoff appearance since going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2005/06. San Jose finished third in the Pacific and sixth in the West. The Oilers won the season series 3-1-1 and outscored the Sharks 16-13 with San Jose winning a game in overtime. The series faces off on Wednesday, April 12th.

Eastern Conference
Montreal Canadiens (47-26-9, 103 points) vs New York Rangers (48-28-6, 102 points)
Montreal won the Atlantic Division this season and finished as the fourth seed in the East. The Rangers placed fourth in the Metropolitan Division, just a point behind the Habs and are the fifth seed in the East as the first wildcard team. Montreal won the season series 3-0 and outscored the Rangers 12-7. One of the wins came in a shootout. This series starts on Wednesday, April 12th.
Ottawa Senators (44-28-10, 98 points) vs Boston Bruins (44-31-7, 95 points)
Ottawa finished in second place in the Atlantic Division and as the sixth seed in the East while Boston was right behind them in third in the Atlantic and seventh in the East. Ottawa swept the season series 4-0 and outscored the Bruins 12-6 with one win coming in a shootout. The series will begin on Wednesday, April 12th.
Washington Capitals (55-19-8, 118 points) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (40-27-15, 95 points)
Washington finished as the President’s Trophy winners for having the best overall record during the season. Needless to say, they won the Metropolitan Division and the East. Toronto finished fourth in the Atlantic and eighth in the East as the second wildcard team. They won just one of their final four games of the season, meaning they must face the Capitals instead of Ottawa. Washington won the season series 2-1 and outscored the Leafs 12-10 with one win coming in overtime. This series starts Thursday, April 13th.
Pittsburgh Penguins (50-21-11, 111 points) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (50-24-8, 108 points)

Pittsburgh finished as runners up in the Metropolitan Division and as the second seed in the East. Columbus was right behind them in third in the Metropolitan and third in the East. The teams split the season series 2-2 with each team winning a game in regulation and overtime. However, Columbus outscored the defending Stanley Cup champs 13-10. The Blue Jackets lost six of their final seven regular season games. The series faces off on Wednesday, April 12th

NHL races go down to the wire

It looks like the final NHL playoff positions likely won’t be confirmed until the last day of the 2016/17 season. Fans already know which eight teams will make the playoffs in the Western Conference, but the final Eastern Conference playoff spots are still up for grabs. In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators will be in the postseason for sure.
However, the positioning definitely isn’t settled with just a week to go in the campaign. Chicago has locked up the Central Division and Western Conference title, but St. Louis and Nashville are battling it out for third place with the forth place team entering the playoffs as a wildcard team. When it comes to the Pacific Division, we see that Anaheim, San Jose and Edmonton are all still fighting for the top spot and could finish anywhere between first and third place in the division while Calgary could finish between second and fourth. The club that finishes fourth will make the postseason as a wildcard team.
There are also several close races taking place in the Eastern Conference as four teams still have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs heading into the final week. The Montreal Canadiens have wrapped up first place in the Atlantic Division, but the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning are all fighting for the second and third guaranteed playoff berths. In addition, those four teams are also fighting for the eighth and final playoff seeding, which will go to the second wildcard team. The New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes of the Metropolitan Division are also in the hunt for that final wildcard position. 
The New York Rangers have locked up the first wildcard spot due to their fourth-place position in the Metropolitan Division. But like the Pacific Division in the West, the Metropolitan is still in the midst of a race between the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. The final positioning will have a huge bearing on the playoff matchups since the winner of the Metropolitan Division will play the eighth-seeded team (second wildcard team) in the first round of the postseason. The second and third-place teams in the division will have to face off against each other.
The only thing that fans can be certain of during the last seven days of the campaign is that the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers won’t make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference while Washington, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Montreal and the Rangers have clinched sports. Ottawa, Boston, Toronto, Tampa, the New York Islanders and Carolina are still battling it out for a berth. The teams missing the playoffs in the West are the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks, Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche. 

For the teams still battling it out for the postseason, their playoffs are basically going to be taking place this week as they jockey for position. To make things even more exciting for the fans, many of the teams in the playoff hunt will be facing off against each other over the next seven days.